Jon Monroe (B.S. Botany 1982) is a professor of biology at James Madison University who got his start as a botany major at the University of Michigan.
“I switched to botany from the School of Natural Resources after being enthralled by Herb Wagner's Woody Plants class, and loved him in Systematics. I then spent three summers at the U-M Biological Station and was twice a TA for Boreal Flora taught by Ed Voss.” We heard from Monroe in response to EEB’s March 2014 enewsletter. He wrote: “To see both of them in this newsletter just made my day – thanks!”
In response to a subsequent request for his alumni news update, Monroe said, “Perhaps the most interesting and exciting thing I was involved with was a mural on our new Bioscience building. The artwork is a three-story surface view of 60 base pairs of an Arabidopsis gene (AGLU1 encoding an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase) that we sequenced back in the 90s.”
The DNA sequence is from the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Alongside the DNA are sketches of organisms from the earth's surface or under water (on the first floor), organisms found in a forest canopy (on the second floor), and organisms that fly (on the third floor).
One of the undergraduates who worked on the sequencing project, Alison Stephen, is now an artist working in New York City. She drew the DNA (and surrounding organisms) based on a 3-D model that Monroe generated using the specialized computer programs 3D-DART and Chimera. Stephen’s drawing was digitized and printed on the same material they use to put images on the sides of trucks.
Monroe received his Ph.D. in plant physiology in 1989 from Cornell University. He was a postdoctoral research associate in the Biochemistry Department at Michigan State University prior to becoming assistant professor in the Department of Biology at James Madison University. Monroe won the JMU Distinguished Faculty Award in 2011 and the American Society of Plant Biologists Excellence in Teaching award in 2001. He initiated the Council on Undergraduate Research CUR Fellow Award in 1998 and co-initiated the ASPB Summer Undergraduate Fellowships awards in 2001.
While he initially thought that maintaining a successful research program in biology without Ph.D. students was impossible, especially with JMU’s teaching loads, he said “I learned that there were many successful faculty members at colleges and universities that did wonderful work with undergraduate students. More importantly, I learned that the involvement of undergraduate students in original research was profoundly beneficial to their education.” Over the years, he has mentored more than 50 undergraduate students, many who were coauthors on peer-reviewed papers, have completed honors theses, and have made presentations at national and regional meetings, winning best talk awards.